It is a sign of a sticky television show — and by sticky, I mean a show that one cares about, that gets under one's skin, that leaves one wanting more, however disappointing it eventually does or does not turn out to be — that left to think about it, the audience often comes up with much richer, more complicated, more cockamamie explanations for what is going on on-screen than the show’s own writers do. The most infamous example of this is, of course, “Lost,” where the audience dreamed up the hows and whys of everything from Jacob to the smoke monster, only to be told by the show’s creators that none of that really mattered in the warm and fuzzy afterlife.
After last week’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad "Homeland,” there was a flurry of speculation about what was really going on in that episode. Emily Nussbaum at the New Yorker floated a theory — which I was hoping was true— that would explain away much of the episode's suckage: Nazir and Brody were playing Carrie, in order to dupe her into enabling them with some bigger plot.
After tonight’s episode, “In Memoriam” (originally titled “The Motherfucker in the Turban”), it’s still possible that Brody is playing Carrie — that he does not care about her as much as he says, that he still harbors some terrorist sympathies, that he has some endgame she is not privy to — but it also seems unlikely that whatever angle he’s working was wholly aligned with Abu Nazir’s angles. Certainly, Nazir fought and hid hard for a guy who was planning to die. Bummer that it is, much of last week’s dumbness really, irrevocably happened. “Homeland” is the stickiest of TV shows, but that is increasingly disconnected from how good it is.
(And as much as I wanted the Brody-tricks-Carrie conspiracy theory to be right, I've got one major sticking point: Carrie would end the season much as she began it, wholly gutted because she has never been this wrong about anything or anyone before. Carrie would have relearned to trust herself, only to have that trust stripped away: We're stuck in an emotional hamster wheel. Come the first episode of Season 3, she'd be giving Saul another speech about how unmoored she is now that she no longer has faith in her uncanny abilities to see clear.)
"In Memoriam" was a pastiche: Would you like some angsty teen emo-drama? Have at it! (Chris Brody even got to send a spoon clanking this episode!) Would you like Kafka-esque commentary on the security state! Here ya go! Would you like a junky-horror sequence? You are in terrible luck! Some of the episode’s scenes were spectacular; some were risible. Taken together, "In Memoriam" was less abjectly absurd than last week, but it left me much more unsettled about next week’s finale: There are fewer ways, and less time, to explain away the silliness. We are going to have to stomach at least some of it.
There were two sequences that I really loved. The first was the Roya-Carrie interrogation scene, which recovered nicely from an early implausibility. (I have no idea how on-site-at-Langley interrogations of high-level security risks go, but I don’t think random agents can just wander into whatever room they want and start chatting up the terrorist inside, as Carrie does with Roya. But what do I know? Maybe once you’re on the right floor you can just go make small talk with whatever terrorist you want?) If Carrie walked into Roya’s room the favorite (Quinn thought she was the right agent for the job), she walked out with her ass in her hands. Chalk it up to the head wounds, the lack of sleep, or the lack of meds, but Carrie threw junk at Roya, poorly recycled “how to break Brody” tactics, and Roya was not having it.
Carrie started with her patented, “let me make an emotional connection with my subject” move. “I think there’s some part of you that’s relieved that bomb didn’t go off,” she says to Roya, which is almost an exact paraphrase of what she has previously said to Brody. Carrie believes that Roya will be as susceptible to this “are you a monster?” guilt trip as Brody was, but Roya is not Brody. She’s not even Aileen Morgan. Roya is not going to be broken after a feelings-heavy chat from a trained professional who “gets” where she’s coming from.
And so Roya turns tables on Carrie with the quickness, using Carrie’s moves — establishing an emotional rapport — on Carrie. “Have you ever had someone who somehow takes over your life, pulls you in, gets you to do things that aren’t really you, that you know are wrong?” Roya asks, almost as is she’s reading from Carrie’s case file. “But you can’t help yourself? Do you have anyone like that?” Carrie tears up, images of Brody dancing in her head, and says, “Yes.” And then Roya, who is a terrorist and willing killer of innocent civilians, but not because she is tortured and broken, goes HAM on Carrie, and it is a sight to behold. She is the heroine of some other TV show, the one that is "Homeland's" negative image: “Well, I’ve never been that stupid, you idiot whore!” Roya screams, “You think you understand me. You think this is some fucking game!” Roya is fierce and terrifying and — I suspect not for the last time this season — absolutely flays Carrie for leading with her heart.
“How could you know what I want?” Roya asks Carrie, and it’s a good question — it is maybe the question. Do any of us, Carrie and Brody included, know what Brody wants?
The episode's other great sequence was Saul’s interrogation, which — like Carrie’s scuffle in the dark with Nazir — played like a horror movie, but this one directed by Kafka. Here is Saul — who we know from Season 1 has a history of failing polygraphs — hooked up to a machine, trapped into telling truths that will empower David Estes to make him look like a liar. Saul’s abject, righteous fury — as well as the “Are you sometimes called the bear?” “Fucking hope not” exchange — was impeccable and bracing. The injustice and claustrophobia of his circumstance is so much more terrible and oppressive and so much more genuinely frightening than Carrie’s stabby exchange with Nazir. (The other truly anxiety-provoking scene for me came when Brody and Jess were sitting in the car, hashing out their divorce. I spent every second of that scene muttering at Peter Quinn, “Please don’t shoot Jess, too,” “Please don’t shoot Jess, too.” The Brodys increasingly feel like they are transported in from another TV show — maybe that plays back to back with "Parenthood" — but I would still like them and Mike to survive this.)
As for Carrie and Nazir's tunnel fight to the death. Oh, boy. Some questions!
1. Why is Carrie Mathison better than dozens of trained professionals at carefully inspecting a building for hiding places? Corollary: Has no one in the FBI ever read a children's book in which there were hiding places?
2. Wouldn’t the one FBI agent who stayed back with her have called for backup when he had to put his gun down to open the door?
3. Are FBI agents' walkie-talkies as susceptible to cutting out in the presence of murderers as cellphones?
4. If you suspected a mass murderer was standing a few feet away, would you take the time to flip the corpse of a recently felled FBI agent over, or just set off running? Did Carrie just really want us to see the work the makeup team had done slitting the FBI agent's throat?
At the end of these shenanigans, Abu Nazir was dead. Sick of being hounded and tracked by Americans abroad, he came to America to perpetrate some grand attack, but, as far as the public knows, accomplished absolutely nothing. A mastermind indeed.
Carrie’s correctness about Nazir was her one mark in the “Carrie is a genius” column. This week she also was “wrong” about Galvez (for now, anyway, he’s not the mole, or maybe he is, or maybe there is no mole); she was disastrous with Roya; and something still seems off with Brody. Brody and Carrie’s dynamic, as written and performed, has never been an equal partnership. She is way more into him than he into her. Jess saying to Brody, “You must really love [Carrie],” is not the same as Brody saying it. Whatever gets destroyed next week in the finale, I wonder if it won't be more of Carrie's competence.
With just one episode left, it looks like the big question of the finale will not be one of plot — of what Brody is or is not up to, though surely there will be some twists and turns — but of life and death: Just how willing are “Homeland’s” writers to kill off their Emmy-winning male lead? (We probably could have predicted this was where the season was going to wind up from its very first episode, we just got waylaid trying to explain away last week.) "In Memoriam" ended with Peter sitting in a car, eyes on Brody, under orders to kill him, orders that the major characters on "Homeland" all have specific, conflicting feelings about. Brody’s death or life — and what Carrie, Saul, David Estes and Peter Quinn will do to sustain one or the other — looks to be the major subject of the finale. I will be glued to my TV no matter what happens.